Manuel Conde is, in a manner of speaking, one of the pioneers of Filipino independent filmmaking. His films, made outside the influence of the studios of the day (Sampaguita, LVN, et. al.,) were imaginative, ahead of their time, and also socially conscious. Unfortunately, a lot of these films (and many films from the era) were lost to time due to inadequate systems for film presentation. The films that made it to the present day are mostly hailed as classics. To celebrate his body of work and legacy, the CCP, the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA) and the NCCA put together a short series of screenings of some of these films.
One of Conde's most well known films is Genghis Khan, released in 1950. It has the distinction of being the first Filipino film to be released in a foreign film festival. In this case, it was in Venice. The international cut of the film was restored in recent years, but that version has English dialogue dubbed over it, and over 20 minutes was cut from the film. This screening was for the original Filipino version, and this is more or less how Filipino audiences would have viewed it in the fifties. It's recorded from an old VHS copy, and the sound is a bit spotty. Long story short, it's still a great film, and I can see why it's considered a classic.
Genghis Khan is a dramatization of the historical figure's life as he rises to power. Historical accuracy was not the aim of the film; at several times in the movie our titular hero, a Mongol, wears a Samurai kabuto as his headpiece. The movie frames him as a shrewd leader, possessing Filipino traits like utang na loob. Conde's Khan is vengeful but listens to reason, and in the end is probably not as rapey and pillagey as the real thing.
This is a film where I can't simply say that it's a product of its time. On the contrary, - its structure and themes are unique for its time period. It's a mix of comedy, drama and swashbuckling action that is uniquely Filipino. Superficially, one is tempted to compare the film to sprawling epics produced by the Hollywood studio system at the same time. One might make the mistaken judgement that this film is inferior compared to those behemoths, as the film was shot on the smallest of budgets. That judgement could not be farther from the truth. Instead, the end product is wildly entertaining, partly thanks to Conde's team of collaborators, many of them National Artists themselves. This original cut is far superior to the cut with the English voiceover - it's almost like watching a different film.
There was also a small discussion at the end of the screening, which included a short presentation on the impact of the film and comparisons to other adaptations of Genghis Khan's life, and a session with actor/director/comedian Jun Urbano, who is actually Manuel Conde's eldest son. The post screening programs were almost as entertaining as the film itself. The various clips of the other Genghis Khan adaptations includes a 40's Japanese film that could double as propaganda, a Bollywood song and dance interpretation of the material, and clips from a horrible Hollywood adaptation starring John Wayne, channeling his inner hammy Mongolian cowboy with every frame.
Today's screening was a whole lot of fun. Next week we go from Mongolia to Vietnam as the CCP screens Conde's 1956 film Krus na Kawayan.
The CCP Dream Theater will screen more films by Conde on October 1 and October 8. Admission is free.